Season 3, Episode 13 – “March 8, 1983”
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
Written by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Langella
Air date: Wednesday, April 22, 2015, 10pm
“. . . I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely . . . declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an ‘evil empire,’ to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
It turns out that after a season full of intensity and great surprises that The Americans has saved the best for last in the Season 3 finale, titled “March 8, 1983.” Our spoiler-filled review, after the jump.
In a season that’s been all about confessions and admissions of guilt, The Americans had indeed saved the biggest showstopper for last. As Ronald Reagan’s infamous “evil empire” speech rings through the television set in the master bedroom in the Jennings household, the fates of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are fully sealed. And in an episode that seems so hopeless on so many levels, it’s a surprising feat that Reagan’s speech is just one of many nails that hammer home the beginning of the end.
This is the day that changes everything.
This year seemed to be very much about pushing the Jennings family to a definitive breaking point. It’s a moment we’ve all been leading to since the season opener. We started out with a shot of the Jennings family photo before panning to Elizabeth and showing us that she pushed Paige into the water as to force her daughter to learn how to swim. And while we can ultimately infer that Paige did learn that, she’s certainly not treading water now. As this secret she holds is an anchor, pulling her into the depths below. Yet, Paige’s confession is an attempt to come clean, but all she’s done is trade one burden for another. By telling Father Tim about what’s really going on with her parents, she’s traded out lying to her friends, for lying to her parents.
Philip’s position isn’t entirely dissimilar to Paige’s. “You can’t see ten feet in front of you. Grow up,” Gabriel tells him. But the irony of Gabriel’s statement is that Philip can see ten feet in front of himself and he hates what he sees. As he writes the suicide note for Martha’s FBI coworker, it’s very much an apology for his actions towards Annelise, Kimmy, Martha, Elizabeth, and even Paige: He had no choice. He’s sorry.
And so we come back to the start. A Jennings family photo comes back into in focus in this closer in a similar fashion to its inclusion in the season opener, but the situation has changed. In the premiere it was Elizabeth, naked, laying in a tub of water as her family lingered in the foreground. Now it’s Philip, in the foreground, lingering in a bed, with the family photo in the slight background. The camera is askew, with Philip out of his element, dealing with the weight of his truths.
I can’t help but think of the EST leader who states that everyone is “. . . so stuck in your mind, but what you’re just learning is that these feelings in your gut are just as important, more important than all the shit in your head.” And it’s true. The feelings in Philip, Paige, and Elizabeth’s gut are more important than the logical part of their brain that would keep them safe.
But no amount of confession can save us from absolution. It comes for us all.
And it’s now officially coming for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.
– Holly Taylor has been given several incredible performances this season, but much like the plots before this episode, they’ve been leading to that devastating moment in the episode’s climax as she talks to Pastor Tim — it’s some of the young actress’s finest work, a standout among standouts.
– I love the scene in the hotel bathroom between Elizabeth and Paige for a number of reasons: Of course the first thing Paige does is to pray for her grandmother (and the way that Elizabeth sits down on the floor, knees first teases that she might do the same), but the way the scene is blocked — with Paige sitting on the toilet and therefore at a higher angle than Elizabeth’s placement on the floor is also a very subtle bit of foreshadowing. Paige’s placement indicates has all the power here and she will continue to have it for the rest of the episode — especially as she uses it to tell Pastor Tim the truth.
– The meeting between Paige, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s mother was handled so incredibly well and about moved me to tears. Russell does some really incredible work here.
– Fields and Weisberg make an interesting choice here not to show Martha (Alison Wright) again after Philip’s reveal to her last week. I know they both mentioned that they want to leave some plots lingering in order to explore in the future, but I thought for sure we’d get more into her headspace, especially considering how big of a moment that was.
– Other plots left in the air: Kimmy and Henry’s (Keidrich Sellati) strange obsession with Sandra (Susan Misner).
– Speaking of Sandra, I was just surprised to see her at the EST meeting as Philip was, but their discussion about the meaning of “sex-pression” (which is exactly how the Americans as always used that act — sex on this show has always been about characters revealing more personal details about themselves over any sort of titillation) and the idea of secrets is poignant, given the episode’s greater thematic elements.
– Further confession: Philip doesn’t even try to hide his sadness over Annelise to Yousaf. And it’s heartbreaking.
And so ends what is easily the show’s best seasons and it’s been one hell of a ride, comrades. If you experienced it along with me or just dropped in for this review, thank YOU for taking the journey with me. I am tremendously excited we’ll get another season (despite this feeling like a series finale in some ways) and I hope you’ll join me for that one as well.
What did you think of the Season 3 finale of The Americans? Sound off in our comments below!